Spike in Marijuana-Impaired Driving in Maryland, Police Say

What to Know

  • The number of crashes investigated by Maryland State Police that were linked to marijuana nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018.

  • Over the same time period, the number of traffic violations linked to marijuana jumped by nearly 40 percent.

  • D.C. police records show a nearly 10 percent increase in all impaired driving arrests between 2017 and 2018.

As more states decriminalize marijuana, local police are catching more people driving while under the influence.

A News4 I-Team review of police records shows a sharp spike in traffic crashes and violations linked to marijuana use in Maryland. The I-Team also found an overall increase in people driving while intoxicated in Washington, D.C.

Maryland State Police told the I-Team they have increased their training for troopers in detecting drug impairment during traffic stops. Though police did not directly link the increase in incidents to decriminalization of the drug, law enforcement officials said marijuana can significantly impair a driver’s abilities behind the wheel.

The number of vehicle crashes investigated by Maryland State Police that were linked to marijuana nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018. Over the same time period, the number of traffic violations linked to marijuana jumped by nearly 40 percent.

Maryland State Police field sobriety test 3

D.C. police records show a nearly 10 percent increase in impaired driving arrests between 2017 and 2018.

“There’s a perception that marijuana does not impair you like alcohol. That’s not true. You’re impaired,” said Mary Gaston, whose son was struck and killed by a driver who was under the influence of medicinal marijuana.

Colorado State Police told the I-Team they’ve seen a 74 percent increase in fatal crashes in the time since the state decriminalized marijuana in 2013.

“Marijuana has been a part of that,” a trooper from Colorado said.

Local police said marijuana-impaired driving is not limited to late nights or weekends.

Maryland State Police said it provides troopers with advanced training for detecting impairment among drivers. The agency said confirming marijuana-related impairment is different than deciphering if a driver is impaired by alcohol.

A Maryland State Police trooper conducting a field sobriety test.

“Each drug is going to give you different clues of impairment,” Trooper Samuel Jackson said. “With marijuana we’re looking for the bloodshot red, glassy eyes, dilated pupils, drooping eyelids, slow exaggerated movements.”

In a report to Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it is working on efforts to help better measure impairment caused by marijuana. In its report, the agency said: “There are no evidence-based methods to differentiate the cause of driving impairment between alcohol and marijuana. Given the increasing use of marijuana by drivers in the U.S., there are a number of efforts underway, including work by NHTSA, to develop ways of differentiating impairment by alcohol from marijuana. These efforts will take a number of years and a successful outcome cannot be guaranteed at this time.”

Virginia State Police said they do not maintain data on the number of violations for marijuana-impaired driving in the commonwealth.

Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.